After countless displays of heroics, sporting excellence and incredible achievements by individual athletes and teams, the Special Olympics IX MENA Games 2018 came to its thrilling, fun-packed end on Tuesday.
The three-day Abu Dhabi Games were filled with wonderful moments that will live on in the memories of the athletes, their families and spectators forever.
The last day of competition saw two divisional men’s basketball finals, with the UAE facing off against Saudi and Egypt taking to the court to play Chinese Taipei.
Each of the four teams, which were made up of athletes with determination alongside able-bodied colleagues, gave their all in two exciting and end to end games.
In a free-flowing match, the UAE and Saudi players pushed each other to the limit until the final quarter when Saudi eventually outscored their Emirati hosts to win by 43 points to the UAE’s 33.
Saudi player Mohammad Mousa said he was delighted with his team’s victory in the final.
He said: “We were thrilled to have made it to the final but to beat the UAE, which were one of the strongest teams in the competition, is something special. It was not an easy game as the UAE have great players.
“We are happy to be in Abu Dhabi and to able to play in the MENA games. The crowd was amazing and really supported both teams with songs and chants to encourage all of the player on each side to do their best. They made it so exciting. I would like to thank everyone who came to watch the game for their support.
“I’m looking forward to returning home to Saudi to tell everyone, my wife, my sons and my family, that I have won a gold medal at the Games.”
In the other final game, Egypt and Chinese Taipei matched each other basket for basket until the last seconds when the Asian team secured a narrow victory of 51 points to Egypt’s 49.
While the players performed heroics on the court, the crowds did their part to make the final day extra special with the stands packed full of spectators who sang songs of encouragement for both teams.
Thamer Al Khan was supporting the Emirati team but enthusiastically joined in the chants backing the Saudi players.
“All of the fans wanted to make the final game extra special for the athletes,” Al Khan said. “Even though the game was competitive and only one team could win, it was important for the players to feel the love and support of everyone who came to watch.
“By shouting chants and singing songs of encouragement, we as fans showed that we fully support both teams and that we truly appreciate the hard work and dedication they have shown throughout these Games.”
Emirati basketball player Mariam Al Mazouri played in the day’s women’s tournament. She described competing in the Special Olympics IX MENA Games 2018 in her home city of Abu Dhabi as “like playing in my own home”.
“The Games have been amazing. I have loved every minute I played, especially in the games where we beat Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Algeria,” she said.
“Personally, I think I have played OK. There were games when I scored points and there were games where I could have scored more, but overall it has been wonderful.”
Mohammad Al Hajjar, who played for Syria’s basketball team, said he will remember the experience of playing in the UAE capital forever.
“I was really happy to be able to represent my country at the Special Olympics MENA games. This is my second Games and I’m really happy that we achieved some great wins.
“The whole team trained very hard for these games and we all played very well. I would like to thank the whole of the UAE for organizing these games and inviting all of the athletes to come and play here.”
Mohammad added that his teammates had been spurred on by huge support from not only their fellow Syrians, but also spectators from other countries.
“The crowds have been like a dream,” he said. “They supported all of us in every game we played and helped us to play better.”
In the finals of the powerlifting, Libya’s Ammar Al-Shatshat took home the gold after lifting a combined weight of 507.5kg in division M6 of the bench, deadlift and squat.
Emirati athletes Ahmed Al Honsani and Hamad Al Ali won 4th and 5th place respectively in division M6, with Ahmed lifting a total of 365kg and Hamad 330kg.
In the women’s competition division F3, Libya’s Monia Ezawi won gold for a combined lift in the bench, deadlift and squat of 262.5kg with Hanan Al Shehyari from the UAE winning silver for a total lift of 140kg. Her compatriot Roodha Al-Ahbabi won bronze with a 110kg combined lift.
More than 1,000 athletes from 32 countries travelled to Abu Dhabi to take part in MENA IX Games, which is the first major sporting event ahead of Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019. Athletes took part in 16 sports across eight venues including ADNEC, Zayed Sports City, Yas Marina Circuit, NYUAD, Officer’s Club, Mubadala IPC Arena, Al Jazira Sports Club and Al Forsan Club.
Day two – Monday – of the Special Olympics IX MENA Games Abu Dhabi 2018 got off to a fantastic start at the NYUAD campus on Saadiyat Island with the Emirati long-distance athlete sealing first place in her race.
The runner paced her way around the track to take the gold medal, waving her arms to the cheering crowd and soaking up the applause.
Speaking after her run, Mariam said: “I am very happy and not even tired. I was so excited with the crowd cheering me on from the stands.
“I’m training all the time with my coach who helps me to get faster. Hopefully I can win more medals at the World Games next year.”
Emirati athletes with determination and their able-bodied colleagues won silver and bronze medals in a double victory for the UAE’s unified table tennis couples teams.
The teams, which feature sportsmen with and without intellectual disabilities (ID), were presented with their medals after taking second and third place in the unified couples category on day two of the Special Olympics IX MENA Games 2018 in Abu Dhabi.
All the athletes proudly dedicated their wins to the UAE’s leadership and thanked them for organizing the major international sporting event taking place in the capital. They are now looking forward to even greater success at the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019.
Khaled Al Shahi, who has ID, won the silver medal with his able-bodied colleague, Nawaf Al Kaabi, while ID athlete Mohammed Almas was presented with bronze alongside his teammate, Yousef Al Kaabi.
Khaled said: “I am very proud that I took second place in this category and I dedicate this win to our UAE leaders. I am looking forward to getting the first place in the World Games 2019.”
His teammate, Nawaf, said: “Our participation in the Special Olympics Games has prepared us for the World Games happening in 2019.
“It is a good start for the Year of Zayed and we are very happy and proud to be part of such a great sporting event.”
Mohammed said he felt “happy and proud” at securing third place in is now looking forward to the World Games next year.
Yousef echoed his colleague’s joy at taking home a medal. “I am very happy that I am part of this amazing sporting event,” he said.
“I got third place in the couple category and I am looking forward to participating in the World Games and getting the first place.”
The UAE’s table tennis coach, Omar Ali, said the silver and bronze medals were a “great accomplishment for the UAE and Abu Dhabi”.
“Special Olympics Abu Dhabi is a preparation for the World Games 2019,” said Mr Ali: “I would like to thank the UAE’s leaders for their full support for people with determination.
“People with determination have given their all in the MENA games and I thank all the organizers for a brilliant job for making this event a success in all aspects.
“The UAE team will work even harder and prepare itself for the World Games 2019 and get the best results possible.”
Speaking after the UAE’s victory over Egypt, Emirati basketball player Talal Noufan Arekat said he was excited to be representing his country on the court.
“The Games have been the best experience ever. I’ve really enjoyed playing with my teammates against players from all over the world.
“The games have been tough. Our match against Egypt was very tight, but we won in the end.”
Talal, who trained with the UAE basketball squad at a camp in Al Ain before the start of the competition, said all of the teams taking part in the Games have shown high levels of skills.
“There have been some tough games. All of the teams are very good and have some good players,” he said. “We have performed well as a team and I even scored 22 points in a game so I’m very happy. I hope we can go all the way and win the gold.”
Special Olympics IX MENA Games and Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 are a part of the UAE’s National Vision 2021 that highlights full integration of people of determination into everyday society. Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 will be the most ‘unified’ games in history and promise to offer an inclusive experience for those with and without intellectual disabilities.
More than 1,000 athletes from 32 countries have travelled to Abu Dhabi to take part in MENA IX Games, which is the first major sporting event ahead of Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019. Athletes are taking part in 16 sports across eight venues including ADNEC, Zayed Sports City, Yas Marina Circuit, NYUAD, Officer’s Club, Mubadala IPC Arena, Al Jazira Sports Club and Al Forsan Club.
Held under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 will see the biggest humanitarian sporting event in the world coming to the Emirati Capital, marking its first debut in the history of the MENA region.